The Makings of a Makerspace: Three Examples

Learning, PreK-12

In late October, 2013, I visited several makerspaces in the bay area crammed into one day, and blogged about my discoveries here.

Then, in summer 2014, I visited two more makerspaces and blogged about those here.

Most recently, the fabulous Jaymes Dec hosted me at Marymount in NYC, Kat Sauter hosted me at Ann Richards STARS in Austin (whom I also visited back in 2013 before their makerspace!), and Ross Monroe hosted me at Edmonds Community College here in Seattle.

(This great post by the Tarrant Institute for Innovative Education at the University of Vermont also has some great ideas and examples for flexible physical learning environments.)

Overall Organization

Marymount’s “makerspace” was actually significantly distributed throughout the school, with elements in the high school, middle school, and primary spaces. “Making” is well on it’s way to being simply fully integrated into the subject area classes at Marymount, and it shows.

Ann Richards and ECC both have clearly designated makerspaces, with Ann Richards’ more clearly matching much of the layout I’ve seen at other schools and ECC’s much closer to a traditional machine shop with some awesome new elements (3D printing).

Pegboards and clear bins were particularly prevalent, as I’ve often found. We’re leaning very heavily towards the pegboard-with-sharpie-outlines model of tool storage, hoping for very easy cleanup even for our pre-reader little makers.


Marymount’s bin and pegboard

One thing I particularly like about Jaymes’ bins at Marymount is the organization according to type of activity… Rather than “electronics” and “sewing,” Jaymes has his shelves arranged by “Invent Something” or “Prototype Something.”


Ann Richards’ pegboards


ECC’s pegboard specifically for cardboard cutters. I’m totally getting some of these.

ECC also had some very heavy-duty rolling tool chests, and they used their vacuum former to create custom trays for their different tools. They also used both photos and text labels, resulting in some of the same visual organization that clear bins offers.


Ann Richards was the only school with a brainstorming space within the makerspace itself. It was a spot of color and comfyness in the otherwise industrial space. We’re planning to have a small cafe/library space for brainstorming and reading idea books, and this is a nice model.


Another great element from Ann Richards was their homemade drill and glue gun organization systems. I’ve been wanting some sort of glue gun rack for several years now, and am fully planning to steal this idea the second our laser cutter is set up.


Kat was much less excited about her in-progress student project organization… This is not far from my student project organization system in my science classroom right now, and I definitely don’t recommend it.  Perhaps a different style of bins, to differentiate from materials and allow students to keep their pieces contained?



I can’t believe I haven’t had a dedicated section for this before… I was really impressed with the safety structures in place at Ann Richards. They have hearing protection prominently displayed with other tools, student-created safety signs like the “Sharp Object Protection” example here, and – my favorite – simple graphics accompanying each piece of equipment to show what you need to be able to operate that tool: eye, ear, and/or pony.



The piece of furniture I was most excited about was the sound booth at Marymount. My students are constantly complaining about the difficulty of creating audio recordings – for videos, for animations, for podcasts, for world language assignments – and this simple booth would get heavy use… We’re currently planning to buy/build two for our Lab.


In general, both Ann Richards and Marymount have heavy wood lab benches with some storage underneath, and basic metal stools. ECC uses their rolling tool chests also as workbenches, and has no stools – since their actual work spaces are separate, they find no need for seating.


Student Projects

Marymount had some really wonderful student projects on display, including a functional 3D-printed robot that a high school engineering class was working on, recycled fashion, robots programmed to perform a ballet, and a challenge project resulting in prosthetic hands able to hold and tilt a can of soda.


Ann Richards didn’t have very many projects on display, but several examples of neat signage made by the students. Kat commented that a couple of the signs were made with inappropriate materials, like the very nice particleboard for the JUSTICE sign when cardboard would have done just fine. I anticipate that being a challenge for us as well… Already, my students use leather sheers to cut cardboard and wire strippers to cut chicken wire. *sigh* More training will help.



Ann Richards’ truly spectacular project, however, is their Project Ventura camping trailer renovation, a multi-year project undertaken by several different classes every year. I have just a few pictures here, but visit their blog for more details.



(a photo of a “before” image displayed in the trailer, and an actual photo of the same spot at the time of my visit)


I really only have one project from ECC to show: this vacuum-formed podium.

I expressed some skepticism that a vacuum former is a really useful tool, and Ross and his lab manager Justin jumped to show me some examples.lindsey-vacuum-podium-300pxwTheir students regularly use their CNC mill to cut foam into the desired shape, vacuum form a mold from the foam, then use the vacuum-formed mold to make the final product out of plastics, concrete, or whatever material.

I’m sort of convinced… I think our admissions and development offices would REALLY enjoy making some custom-molded chocolates for school events.

Fun Toys

3D printers:

  • The MakerBot Replicator 2 had a pretty poor review, especially that the cartridge clogged often.
  • The Lulzbot TAZ got a good review… easier and more reliable than the MakerBot. However, the guys at ECC pointed out that the TAZ software is pretty non-friendly and doesn’t automate scaffolding.
  • The Polar3D is brand-new, so they haven’t used it yet… But a new style of 3D printer with a rotary plate (a “polar coordinate” printer)
  • The uPrint got a great review, but far too expensive for our needs
  • The Formlabs got probably the best review of all of them, with high reliability and friendly software where you can even adjust the supports.





Kat keeps a quick model of different printing densities next to their TAZ for reference:


CNC routers:
The gigantic CNC router at ECC is a heavily-used tool, and a very large tool. Marymount barely uses their CNC, but when it works, it can make some neat products like the custom-etched hair bow below. Ann Richards had *just* set up their CNC when we visited, and hadn’t used it yet.


Marymount’s mini CNC


ECC’s maxi CNC

Laser Cutters:
Both Marymount and Ann Richards have the universal Epilog cutter, but ECC has aUniversal laser cutter, which I’d never seen before (I’m going to go ahead and leave that poor wording, because I think it’s funny). The pros that Ross and Justin shared with us for their Universal are 1) multiple laser heads for different energy needs, and a much wider and feed-through bed for very large cuts.


Other little things:
I’ve always been sort of skeptical of conductive fabric, but Jaymes has this very cute technique for using conductive fabric to create a battery-holder pocket.


ECC has pneumatic orbital sanders, and the full compressed-air system throughout their space to run them… They feel strongly that an compressed-air system is a vital component of a makerspace, but I’m still not sure… I see the value of both pneumatic tools and having air to clean dust off woodworking machinery (I remember using the heck out of that in wood shop in junior high). But I don’t know… still up for discussion.


For more on makerspaces, check out:

Lindsey Own

Lindsey Own

Lindsey Own teaches science at The Evergreen School in Shoreline, WA. Follow Lindsey on Twitter, @LindseyOwn.